Membership organisations: 6 tips for your post-corona digital strategy

Martijn van der Heijden

Jul 28 2020

Imagine what would have happened if Covid-19 had struck 25 years ago. Mobile phones were a novelty, not everyone had email, most people only had access to a computer at work or school...

Thankfully, broadband has made it possible for schools, businesses and peoples' social lives to continue through lockdown. A virus made clear what was already apparent: from now on it’s digital first, physical second. But there are more steps to be made in this journey.

Time for membership organisations to look at their digital strategy again!

1) Make customer journeys digital

For me, digital transformation boils down to making the user journeys of customers and employees digital. Not pursuing 1:1 digital copies, but carefully looking at what users need, and designing services that are instant, easy and effective. If you need to choose, prioritise those journeys with the biggest ROI - whether that’s bringing in more income or reducing costs.

If you haven't yet started a digital transformation programme, then now is the time. Equally, if you've already begun your journey, then it's always worth taking stock to see if you're on the right track, need to make any changes, or if things can be sped up.

A good example for professional membership organisations offering training courses is Generation Global. Originally developed by the Tony Blair Institute to teach students in classrooms dialogue skills, Deeson worked to bring the programme online as a self-directed learning tool at the start of the pandemic - in only 8 weeks.

2) Focus on real value for members

Lockdown has been a moment of truth for professional membership organisations and associations. Did you listen to the questions they faced - what can we still do, what not, how can we communicate with customers, what support is available - and manage to support them?

Keep doing that now lockdown has been lifted. Only if you really service your members, bring them together and make them feel part of something, will they feel it is worth paying their membership fees!

3) Empower your employees

With digital transformation also comes the transformation of your internal processes.

During lockdown, organisations with distributed teams and remote employees had a huge advantage - we here at Deeson were able to carry on working without interruption.

In the Netherlands, schools and Higher Education institutions did pretty well too. This is partly due to earlier investments in online tools, but also because teachers were empowered to make their own choices.

In case there are still any sceptical employers around: employees working from home generally reported a positive impact on their work-life balance, maintaining equal or higher levels of productivity!

4) Create flexible platforms

Covid-19 reinforced the importance of adaptable, resilient business. Digital platforms should be designed with this in mind - enabling organisations to quickly pivot their operations when the need arises. Just think of the retailers who could swiftly move to click and collect models when the demand for home delivery outgrew their capacity. This was made possible because they could easily change the checkout flows on their website.

At Deeson, we favour component based design and development as it enables you to quickly adapt your processes, so our development methodology is set up with modules in mind. Our continuous development and agile approach also enables clients to adapt quickly to new priorities.

5) Diversify your digital business model

For many organisations, digital has traditionally been a vehicle for promoting physical services. With the advent of lockdown, access to physical assets and experiences was lost, and with it much of the website traffic that supported cross selling.

Think for example about museums, where most online shop visitors came via exhibition pages. We've therefore been seeing many now looking at how they can generate new, wholly digital income streams. The V&A and Royal Academy of Arts host extremely popular workshops and courses, for example - could these kinds of activities go online?

Professional membership organisations should think about what unique assets they have - what their unfair advantage is - and what digital services they can develop around them. Consider: what knowledge or network do you have and where you can leverage this? You might be able to offer certain member benefits to non-members for a fee.

6) Consider all audiences

Lockdown unfortunately made it clear that some people are still not connected digitally, and many groups are underrepresented in terms of content and services. And if that wasn’t enough, the BlackLivesMatter movement has made it apparent that many people are not considered in many decisions made.

So with becoming digital first also comes the responsibility to consider all audiences. For example by doing qualitative user research amongst non-users to find out what they need, and by designing and developing according to accessibility guidelines. At Deeson, we take this policy as standard.

Bonus: measure and learn

Crunching the numbers might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's an important part of every digital transformation journey. Personally, I find it intriguing to know if people use a certain online service more during their lunch break, and what subjects and content formats get the most traction.

Knowing what your online visitors are using or missing on your site, what they love or hate, where they struggle or succeed, is essential to realising any of the tips above! It's definitely time to set up that measurement framework if you don’t yet have one.

Martijn van der Heijden

About the author

Martijn van der Heijden

Head of Strategy

Martijn just loves opportunities to create innovative services that make people smile of joy and sigh of relief. Through 20 years of experience in creating world class websites and branding, Martijn brings the holistic view to projects and accounts that is needed to really make an impact. Always on the lookout for new insights in business strategy and data, user research and stakeholder workshops, he delivers clear strategies that create internal support, inspire design and guide business decisions.